Monday, July 29, 2013

Cardigan Bay by Sea (5th July, 2013)

I didn't imagine that I'd get on a boat any time during my stay here, since pelagics tend to be quite booked up in advance and not many places in the UK offer them to begin with. Yet, that prediction was quite false. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre offered survey trips for Cetacea out in Cardigan Bay. Originally I wasn't really enthusiastic since I sought volunteer work and experience rather than sitting in the sidelines, though in the end the former was also achieved.

There was a 8-hour survey trip for the "determined" people. Though some people on the boat were the sort of people that wanted guaranteed sightings of dolphins and nothing more, but its probably unfair to judge that. I still sought a few birds, namely kittiwake, puffin and manx shearwater which occurred off shore. I was informed that it was a possibility to see any or all of those birds, but it was by no means guaranteed. I was also told it went quite a bit off-shore into fairly deep water so that was also promising.

As we drove into New Quay I found a pale tussock moth on the window of a cafe (yes, while the car was in motion). As soon as the car parked I rushed off down the road to relocate it. It was indeed a pale tussock moth, and not a species I had seen before though they are supposedly fairly common.

Their caterpillars are quite often seen though.
The boat left at around 9am and there were bottlenose dolphins in the harbour before anyone even got on the boat.  It was not the closest of encounters and though it would be amusing to think that some people regretted spending money on an 8 hour trip for them when they were just here, I imagine it only inspired them to stay on board. The captain struggled to get in the health and safety lecture as people were far too absorbed with other things.

A few cormorants lingered in the waters here, but they would undoubtedly be replaced later on by shags, or at least I thought so. Alcids started making appearances. You could just about make out some of them from shore if you squinted hard, but out here they were hard to miss. Both razorbill and guillemot were present.

Within only minutes of the harbour was this funny gull called a kittiwake. (It turns out that some of the shots I took of gulls well off-shore a few days ago were kittiwake, but at the time I could not see enough details in the photos to confirm the ID then). 

Some of you may be wondering "What? It's just a seagull. What's the difference?".
It is the only small gull (i.e. black-headed gull) with a white head. Its the only
UK gull with a short all yellow-bill. And its the only gull that has these two
features along with black legs and a wingtip dipped in black without
any white spots.
Nearly all the gulls out here were kittiwake, save the odd herring or great black-backed. Alcids continued, and the manx shearwaters were soon all over the place. A "possibility", they said. They were flying everywhere. (In a similar fashion to the kittiwake, I had images of one shearwater in my multiple "photograph dark specks far out to sea on the horizon and pray you can identify them" shots from up on the cliffs a few days ago, so this is not my first sighting of the bird).

Eh. I have better pictures. You'll see them later.
Not many minutes after that a dark bird flew across the front of the boat, and that was an Atlantic puffin. Apparently no one else was aware of it, since the survey team (the people who wrote down sightings) gave a confused look and demanded to see photos as proof. After that I was uncertain how much I could trust the completeness of the sightings they wrote down, but to be fair birds were not the main focus of their surveys.

From afar its easy to mistake them for razor/mot.
So far this blog is looking rushed. There is a flurry of photos, information about where they were found on the trip, and without the (meaningless) backstory/story I tend to compose in blogs. But it was true that these birds came very fast. I don't think I have had that rate of new birds/minute before. If you payed attention earlier on you would have noticed that I had seen all my target birds within half an hour of leaving the shore, which I must say was quite impressive. And by noting how I had not included a backstory/story, I have. There.

Since there was a long long time of nothing but two things beginning with "s", I'm going to skip between encounters that should have photos included. First up is this gannet, one of many, but it was very close to the boat.

Close gannet is close.

Next up was this European storm-petrel  Well I say this storm-petrel, but I have no photos so you'll have to imagine it instead. (Hint: Its small, and dark.   AKA almost impossible to see when the water isn't perfectly smooth because the reflections of the wave are also dark and it blends in)

In fact I didn't even see the bird. I considered the possibility of a storm-petrel, and after about an hour of scanning the sea I just kind of sat down and waited for the next exciting event to happen. The "expert birder" on board just casually said, "Oh, there was a storm-petrel about 30 seconds ago." about 30 seconds too late and no one else ended up seeing it. Again, since birds were not the focus I suppose all can be forgiven, but still. There were a lot of jellyfish, mostly moon, across the passage.

But I did manage to find another one. The water was thankfully calm, so there was no need to strain one's eyes trying to pick out a small dark bird that was most likely very far away from the boat. A bit late though cause I already had spent the past hour (plus the past past hour) searching until my eyes were sore. But at least now I could finally sit down and stop scanning. It was highly highly unlikely there would be any other seabird to locate here, since Ireland blocked the open sea (and with it any super rare mega birds).

I quite nearly missed it, since I was looking for a tiny dark bird and this bird looked
a bit too big. I can't remember what made me change my mind, but I'm glad I did.
You can see the white rump and short bill in this image.
Since there was nothing of interest between this point and the next 3 hours except the giant bomber plane I will skip to the next point. Giant bomber plane? Oh yeah, that. Supposedly they do missile testing around the coastline here, and this giant bomber plane was the only visual evidence we saw of it. The captain told of stories when they were out and sea and the missiles would fly over the boat.

Ok, even I'm not that clueless. It probably isn't a bomber plane, but it sounds
dramatic so let's go with that.
PS: its a RAF Hercules C-130J, thanks Ryan.

Right, now I can commence the 3 hour skip. The out-to-sea part of the trip was now over, so the boat passed along the immediate coastline now. Cardigan Island had a lot of life resting on its shores, ranging from grey seals to shags. The boat also passed by Bird Rock, a location where a mini-rookery of Alcids can be seen. A pair of shelducks with ducklings in tow was not exactly expected here at sea. It was almost comical how the captain said "There's a duck with ducklings over there."  The rest of the journey was back across the coastline, past Llangrannog, and back.  A few pictures from here:

There aren't too many places where you can be in close
proximity to shags.
Grey seal.

Shelduck with shelducklings...or something.

I only recently (as of this posting, about 20 days after the actual
boat trip) learned how to disable mirror lock-up on my camera.
If I knew that at the time I'd have more photos that looked like the above.
Mirror lock up means it only takes one photo when the shutter is held down,
as opposed to many.
Bird rock rookery.
Pomarine skua off Llangrannog! A hard bird to find in the UK, though
apparently a few individuals are regular in the summer off the west.
The birder on board said it was an Arctic skua, but the differences
are clearly seen in the above image.
And that commences the Cardigan Bay trip report.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Red Kites

The red kite is a bird that has rapidly increased in population since my last visit to the UK in 2009, and as it happens is quite well known in the culture of Wales. It is now commoner than the common buzzard over much of its range. For those who don't know what a red kite is see this image.

What? It's not like you specified what kind of red kite you didn't know about.

The destination today was Gigrin Farm. Though I had now seen quite a few red kites, and though I would definitely appreciate getting closer looks at these now ubiquitous birds, my main intention was to see a "shooting star" of nature. Not only was this specific kite "a shining white flash across the sky" but it, like all things, would eventually die and disappear from the sky, though once it is gone I doubt it will return predictably in a certain hundreds of years. Red kites, depending on circumstances, apparently live anywhere from about 8-20 years. As it happens, pure-white mutations are awfully uncommon and hard to come by, and I do have an interest in unusual colourations in species so I was keen on finding this bird.

The kites were wild, but the feeding was anything but wild. At 2:30pm each day food, consisting of various meat-type meat (I'm really feeling creative today) was thrown into a field where the kites would promptly "kite" down within metres of the bird hides. Of course, this sounds a little silly and many critics would consider it to be too "fake" to be worthwhile, but in reality its no different than feeding birds with a seed or nut feeder in your garden. The kites congregate well before the feeding time, so even without paying entry you can still get good looks at the birds when they soar overhead.

Since I haven't sorted through all the images yet you'll have to cope with these randomly selected ones.

Isn't this a good place to make a joke about fast food?

This is one of the kites with more subtle leucism. I didn't notice
it until I looked through my photos actually. 

So you've seen lots of kite pictures, and the end of this blog is only seconds away. So where is the real white kite? Apparently the white kite always comes in much later to join the feeding frenzy, and that is true. We left at about 3pm, and only then did I see a flash of white across the hills. It was flying towards the feeding station, but a bit too late unfortunately. You'll have to live with the distant shots.

Its quite interesting how dark it can look it certain areas, depending on the angle and lighting.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wales (again) 3rd July 2013

This is the last you'll have to endure in terms of moths in Wales so hang on there.

Time: 10-12am
Species recorded: 23+
Individuals recorded: ...

Common-----Brown China-mark
Common-----Udea olivialis
Common-----Green Carpet
Common-----Sandy Carpet

Nb-----------Waved Carpet
Common-----Yellow Shell
Common-----Flame Carpet
Common-----Toadflax Pug
A small pug (top) that's larger an a small carpet (bottom) ,
 doesn't get any stranger than that. Pugs are usually always
smaller than carpets, but this flame carpet is a very small carpet indeed.
It's nice to have a colourful moth that is common and
Common-----Grey Pug
Common-----Mottled Beauty
Common-----Willow Beauty
Common-----Light Emerald
Common-----Small fan-foot
Common-----Common marbled carpet
Common-----Riband wave f. remutata'
Common-----Burnished Brass
Common-----Double Square-spot
No, its not related to the Square-spot. That would
be too easy.

Common-----Purple Clay

Common-----Beautiful Golden y
Common-----Plain Golden y

Wales Moths (2nd July 2013)

The moths, they continue. A very busy night, even though it was very damp from a continuous flood of rain all day.

Time: 10-12am
Species recorded: 20+
Individuals recorded: ...

Common------Udea olivialis
Common------Silver-ground carpet
Common------Common marbled carpet
Common------Common carpet
Common------Green carpet

Common------Grey pug
Common------Small fan-foot
Common------Brimstone Moth

Common------Flame Shoulder
Common------White-pinion Spotted
A worn one, only just identifiable. The dust is the scales from
all the noctuids that didn't want to sleep.

Common------Small magpie
One of the biggest micros, and one of the few micros with a
name that can be remembered.

Common------Beautiful Golden y
Common------Silver y
Common------Peach Blossom


Common------Clouded-bordered Brindle

Wales Moths (1st July 2013)

Yet more moths. I'm getting more each night which must be a good sign.

Time: 10-12am
Species recorded: 19+
Individuals recorded: ...

Common-------Ghost moth
This is the biggest moth I recorded.
You may be wondering why it is called a ghost moth.
Its named for the white male which flies with an odd pendulum-like hovering motion.

Common-------Udea olivialis

Common-------Silver-ground carpet
Nb--------------Waved carpet

Common-------Grey pug
Common-------Currant pug

Common-------Mottled beauty
Common-------Willow beauty
One of the few "beauty" moths that you don't
dread when it flies into the trap. Easily recognized by those square-
shaped spots (squint harder if you can't see a square).
Common-------Small fan-foot
Common-------Common marbled carpet
Common-------Clouded border
Common-------Riband wave
Common-------Riband wave f. remutata
Common-------Common white wave
Common-------Buff ermine

Common-------Burnished brass

Common-------Heart & dart

Wales Moths (30th June 2013)

More moths! By this time I had obtained a sufficient set of 6 plastic boxes to assist in collection. But 6 was most definitely not enough! I still had to squish over 15 moths in the original box.

Time: 10-12am
Species recorded: 13+

Common-------Udea olivialis
Common-------Silver-ground carpet
Common-------Grey pug
Common-------Mottled beauty

Common-------Small fan-foot

Common-------Common marbled carpet
Local-----------Marbled white spot

Common-------Clouded silver

Common-------Small angle shades

Common-------Common white wave
Common-------Brimstone moth
Common-------Beautiful Golden y

Common-------Amblyptilia acanthadactyla

Wales Moths (29th June 2013)

The second part of Wales was situated around Cardigan Bay (Ceredigion). The place of residence was a series of accommodations within the fields just above Llangrannog known as Wig Farm. It was one of those little forest havens where you could find all of the local wildlife in one place. I may post more on the farm later, but for now I'll detail moths.

So after many years of "promised" moth traps this little cottage with outside lights was my first opportunity for a bit of "mothing". Its location off in the rural farmlands meant there was no light competition, so even though the lights were obviously not designed for attracting moths it still had the potential to bring in a lot.

But I had no trap, so I had to walk backwards and forwards between the outside lights with a little £1 net. This is the point where the people with their fancy professional moth traps laugh. But despite first thoughts, mothing for £1 was not as much a failure as I expected.

Since I didn't even consider bringing any pots or boxes to capture them I had to manage with a mosquito-killing spray box (with 2 holes in where the brown lacewing kept escaping) and one plastic box. Fitting over thirty moths into one box? Not fun.

Beginner's luck doesn't relate to this introductory moth evening. I blame the lack of boxes. Fancy names in blue are ones I have not seen before. This is about where the people with their fancy professional moth traps laugh again seeing what is "new" for me.

Time: 10-11pm
Species recorded: 5
Common---Silver-ground carpet
Posting this for the sake of those who have no
idea what a silver-ground carpet is. Beautiful, but common.

Common---Grey pug
Nb---------Waved Carpet
Waved carpet. Its funny how the nondescript
and boring looking moths tend to be the rarest.

Common---Common marbled carpet
Common---Brown China-mark

Also recorded (non-moths):
*Siphonoperla torrentium
A green stonefly. I've only seen brown ones before so this was nice.

*Panorpa germanica  (Scorpionfly)
*Nephrotoma appendiculata (Cranefly)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wales III

28th June, 2013                                                                      
..................... ........... ........  .....   ...    .   .      .       .                  .                                            .

Part of the stay in Snowdonia involved two days with the tour leader in North Wales known as Gareth Jones. This was the second day, and only a "half day" tour consisting of about 5 hours starting from around 8am.

With yet more misses on the goosanders and pied flycatchers, the morning was quite quiet. It was generally devoid of bird life all over, perhaps a reference to the damp, wet and soggy weather which was not especially satisfying to any terrestrial creature other than a snail.

The ring ouzel quarry location with the Welsh name was covered in a heavy layer of fog. There are many old stories of people becoming lost in the mist on the moors, and the setting was certainly of the same league. Though the atmosphere was unique, it did not really help in the search for the target bird and probably would not help if we did manage to encounter it. There was no ring ouzel to be heard, but this mist wren did not find the lack of visibility to be a hindrance and continued singing.

Make it blurry and it could be a ring ouzel. The mist wren is an endangered and unique species
of the quarries and cliffs of Wales and Scotland.  When the mist and fog lifts all traces of the bird vanishes and
 only  regular wrens are found in their place.
It could easily be coral or seaweed. But its not. Its a parsley fern,
an exclusively alpine species found in few other places in the UK.
Do the ghosts of Cŵn Annwn haunt this place in the fog? Maybe
the Hound of the Baskervilles?

Retiring further back down the mountains we checked for yellowhammers in a secretish field.
A yellowhammer showed well at a certain location in a fielded area and sat within 2 metres without rest. It was still there when we moved on. The yellow bunting as it could be called is a declining species all over the UK, particularly so in Wales. Since I had seen many I probably didn't appreciate it as much as a local Welsh birder would have, but it is a different subspecies than that found in southern England. The subspecies here is E. c. caliginosa, a subspecies found over Wales, Ireland, Scotland and northern England. Though widespread and not endemic to Wales, it is still nothing to shrug about. Its a pretty bird to look at too.

Lesser Redpoll.
That female lesserpoll probably sucked all of your feeling and awe that you gained from looking at the
bright vibrant colours of the yellowhammer, so have this male lesserpoll to compensate.
The next location, another mountainous area, was next on the list. A personal highlight was the discovery of Velia caprai on a small flowing stream here. It was no more than water flowing from the summit, yet it gathered in pools along some parts. A single colony of these creatures existed on one of these pools. The water cricket as it is sometimes known is visually similar to the pond skater or water strider, yet it is a completely different creature altogether. It crawls rather than skates, and exhibits very unique behaviours. These insects were one of those childhood fantasies; you see them in the back of the field guide, but at the time nearly nothing was known about the insects. It was impossible to find any information about their behaviour, and living images of the species were non-existent. This is not the first time I have seen them, however.

A late instar nymph. Colonies of these
insects are hard to come by. There were no adults here, perhaps
suggesting that these nymphs are all recently hatched from eggs laid
the previous year.
A party of peregrine falcons flew over the hill just ahead and perched momentarily. Unfortunately I have little images of them but they are better than my distant shots I had previously.
Well at least its better than the osprey and black grouse images.
A pair of choughs flew in over the peregrines and landed in a field just behind. They are uncommon this far inland, but are widespread along parts of the Welsh coastline. It is a crow, just like the jay. Don't let anyone tell you that all crows are boring.

I guess you could say I was "well chuffed" to see them. Yes, I think I
need to find a whydah list of bird-themed puns.